Some movies give you that “oh no” feeling within the first five minutes. Riz Story’s illogical A Winter Rose is one of them.
Some movies give you that “oh no” feeling within the first five minutes. Riz Story’s illogical A Winter Rose is one of them. The film’s eponymous character, a singer-songwriter played by Kimberly Whalen, was abandoned in a church as an infant and grows up in “the system,” a phrase Whalen delivers in a way that indicates neither she nor her director know much about foster care, group homes or juvenile detention centers. But hey, it sounds vaguely negative and therefore can be lazily applied to develop cheap sympathy for our protagonist in keeping with its overreliance on remaining as unspecific as possible.
Winter is a troubled young woman. We’re told that she’s an immensely talented musician—the songs she sings throughout the movie are on the level of Paris Hilton’s forays into the music industry, with Evanescence as the backing band—but she has no interest in pursuing her talents for fame, fortune or recognition. She spends most of her time working at a topless bar, but it’s unclear if she’s a dancer (she never dances) or if she’s a bartender (she never serves drinks). Her time at the bar is spent drinking whiskey with Henry (erstwhile James Bond actor George Lazenby), who gives her some money out of the kindness of his otherwise lecherous heart.
Whalen goes all out at playing drunk, slurring her speech and drooping her eyelids before falling into Henry’s business suit. Story’s camera placement and editing make it impossible to determine that Winter has actually fallen from her chair until she has already been picked back up. Virtually every scene is like this, with Story cutting past the important piece of visual information straight to a melodramatic reaction to something the audience could not see properly in the first place. Apparently filmed without a boom mic, the movie’s poor sound editing also thrusts every squeaky chair and background noise as front-and-center as the rote dialogue. This is, to put it charitably, not the work of a master filmmaker.
After much dilly-dallying, the movie’s plot kicks into motion with a decision by a famous musician named Rachal Love (Theresa Russell), who is either forced to retire because of a cancer diagnosis or is unable to perform her already-planned retirement concert because of her diagnosis—clarity is not this movie’s strong suit. Love and her manager-husband, played by longtime character actor Paul Sorvino, decide in a boardroom meeting with concert promoters to make the farewell show a way of passing the baton to the next generation. They launch a talent competition to find the next Rachal Love (she’s a Madonna-like figure minus the iconography or musical dynamism), assuming all the while that Love’s fans will want to pay a ton of money for tickets to see a complete unknown—and that they will blindly follow the complete unknown in the same way they did Love. Multiple entertainment news journalists suggest that this first-time gig will be “the most widely viewed event in music history” simply because this popular aging star tells people to check out Winter, whose poorly-produced demos wow Rachal like no other.
A Winter Rose’s saving grace is its potential to become a midnight movie—provided, of course, that the audience is good and liquored up. It continually provides mockable moments like when Winter’s Christian Slater lookalike boyfriend (J.D. Parsons) explains to a working musician what a duet is, or when Billy Zane shows up for one scene to deliver to Winter an envelope full of money (for sex maybe?). These are the bonkers moments that lift your spirits in the late-night hours when your head is spinning from too much whiskey. Winter “I’m a whiskey drinker!” Rose wouldn’t have it any other way.